Custodial Interference

An ex-janitor at DU files a lawsuit claiming harassment by his boss.

The harassment, says Philip Moore, started soon after he became a janitor at the University of Denver. Gay-sex jokes. Racist comments. Sexual harassment. All of it, he contends, coming from his boss, Al Romero, who Moore and other former employees contend was a one-stop shop of crude behavior.

Romero, says Moore, "is somebody that wants to be somebody. He's a short little guy who likes to be the center of attention. If he isn't, it's your ass."

Now Moore hopes it's Romero's ass: The unemployed thirty-year-old Moore recently filed suit in Denver District Court against Romero for subjecting him to "repeated sexual harassment, abuse, violation of privacy and hostile work environment." The suit also names DU, which Moore claims knew about Romero's actions but did nothing about them.

Two other ex-custodians also have come forward with similar allegations against Romero. "It's terrible for a rich school like that to be so stupid," says one of them, Connie Vasquez.

Many of the principals in the brouhaha no longer work at DU, including Romero. He says he didn't even know about the lawsuit until he was told of it by Westword. When informed of the allegations, he laughs and denies them all.

But here's part of the alleged litany of bad behavior listed in Moore's suit:

* Romero asked Moore in June 1997 if Moore "woke up with Vaseline on your butt, would you tell anyone?"

* On another occasion, Romero divulged to others that Moore had to see a doctor because of a lump on his genitals and openly ridiculed Moore.

* In November 1997, Romero, according to the suit, "told Moore that he was going to continue to harass Moore until Moore quit."

* Romero allegedly claimed he did not hire another applicant because "he was a lazy motherfucker, Mexican spic, and all he did was fuck off all the time." The suit also claims that Romero said he didn't want "any niggers working for him...and...a good nigger is a dead nigger."

Romero acknowledges that occasionally there was "shop talk" that went on, but never to the degree alleged.

"It's a sad thing they have to say things like this," Romero says. "I'm really shocked. These allegations are all wrong."

"We had a lot of problems down there," he adds. "There was no communication between the bunch of us." But he denies that there was any wrongdoing. He says he hasn't spoken with Moore since last Christmas, adding, "I don't know what he's talkin' about."

DU officials won't comment.
"The university would rather not speak to the news media," says Carol Farnsworth, the university's vice chancellor for communications. "We would prefer to leave this matter in the hands of the court."

And the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
A former co-worker, John Chavarria, wrote in a March 1998 filing with the EEOC that from his hiring in October 1996 until his firing in August 1997, he was "subjected to harassment in the form of a sexually hostile work environment."

A main target of the hostility, according to Chavarria, was the crew's overall supervisor, John Nichols, whom Romero called a "fag" and "would say that John '...loved it in the ass.'"

Chavarria also contended in his filing that "almost on a daily basis Al Romero made offensive and derogatory comments referencing my race, American Indian. For example, Romero would refer to me as 'drunken' or 'lazy Indian.'" Chavarria claims he was fired from the job without reason.

According to former longtime employee Connie Vasquez, the abusive behavior started after Romero became a supervisor. Vasquez claims that, in one instance, Romero tried to assault her and that she had to fend him off with a broom.

Chavarria says higher-ups at DU, including Nichols and the school's human-resources department, didn't take action regarding their complaints about Romero.

Vasquez says human-resources personnel "gave me a rough time." She adds, "As soon as I mentioned Al's name, they got real angry."

Philip Moore says he reached the breaking point when Romero chewed him out and shoved him into a large storage room, shouting, "Get your ass in this closet before I make an ass of you."

"He was in my face, ready for body blows," Moore recalls.
Moore finally took his complaints to human-resources personnel but says he got no relief. In June 1998, Moore and Romero were let go after the building they worked in became union-run, and they declined offers of part-time work.

"We all lost our jobs there under reorganization," Romero says. He adds that the allegations against him also "had something to do with it."

Though Moore no longer works at DU, he thinks his lawsuit is still necessary. "I feel like the school is responsible because they let someone like him work there," he says. "The guy manipulated me, humiliated me in front of a lot of people, including students. I lost a lot of sleep over this, and I felt this was the only choice."

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